FQ: Emily, being born and raised in New Jersey, can you tell our readers how you amassed such an amazing level of fondness for Venice, Italy? Was this a location you’ve visited before, or wish to visit?
RUHL: While I was an undergraduate student at The College of New Jersey, one of my degree requirements was to take three semesters of a language I had never previously studied. I have always had a love for learning languages, so I was excited to try a new language. I ended up taking Italian, and I quickly fell in love with both the language and the culture. However, I didn’t have a particular fondness for Venice until we conducted a reading in class about Venice during Carnivale. I found the history of the city to be fascinating, and I couldn’t help but continue researching the city even long after my three semesters of Italian had ended. Although I have never been to Venice, I do hope to go there one day.
FQ: I assume you are a history buff, just from the writing alone, so are you someone who researches and studies folklores of various countries or cultures? If so, did one legend you come across perhaps inspire Katya and her Venice adventure?
RUHL: History is, and always has been, my first love. I was a dual major in history and education in college, and I am currently a high school history teacher and a graduate student in the field of history. Although I love all history, I have always been particularly captivated by the personal stories about historical figures and events, as well as myths, legends, and folklore. I think a large part of this is because these stories—whether they are tales about real people or events, or oral traditions passed from one generation to the next—bring life to the past. They humanize people, breathe life into events, and reveal parts of life that are otherwise unfamiliar or distant to us as a result of time. These stories can tell us so much about how people lived, what they believed and thought, what they feared, and even who they were. They are our link to the past. That’s something so special, especially with the loss of many common forms of oral tradition in this age of technology.
Strangely, I had never done much research into Italian folklore, despite my love of all things Italian. I started looking into Italian legends a few years ago, which is when I stumbled across Il Ponte del Diavolo — The Devil’s Bridge. It had many similar qualities to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which has always been my favorite legend. Perhaps as a result of that, I felt particularly drawn to Il Ponte del Diavolo, and I really wanted to incorporate it into my novel. In fact, it was only after deciding to work with the legend of The Devil’s Bridge that the different parts of The Bonds Between Us finally seemed to click into place. Prior to that, I only had a collection of disjointed scenes that I was envisioning in my mind.
Outside of Il Ponte del Diavolo, Norse mythology also played a huge role in my creation of The Bonds Between Us. Although the idea of Vaettir society is my own creation, it is based upon the Vaettir, deities, and creatures of Norse mythology. Some components, such as the notion of Salamanders, Undines, Sylphs, and Gnomes, are based on the elemental spirits by the same names that are found in Norse mythology. Other aspects, such as the existence of Daskis and Kongeligs, were my own creation, although they do have ties to the deities and giants of Norse mythology.
FQ: Matteo, Nina, Katya – are these characters completely from the imagination, or are they based on specific people?
RUHL: Some of the characters in The Bonds Between Us are based off of real people, whereas others are purely figments of my imagination. Three of the main characters—Katya, Nina, and Janara—are almost entirely based off of real people. Katya is largely a reflection of myself. Nina is the personification of my best friend, who has come to be like a sister to me in the decade that I have known her. I owe her so much, so everything about Nina—from her personality to her love for Pride and Prejudice—is a tribute to her. Janara is likewise based off of two people who are near and dear to my heart—a former colleague and a former teacher, both of whom are like family to me.
The remainder of the central characters—Matteo, Leo, Arun, Aella—were all created from my imagination, although they all contain small bits and pieces of people I know or have met.
FQ: There are many who will say that “writing must be so easy.” Can you tell readers about your first foray into writing a novel? Such as, the negatives and the positives, whether or not you had an outline for the book before beginning, and how long that process took?
RUHL: Writing my first novel was indeed one of the most rewarding, but also one of the most difficult things that I have ever done in my life. Writing had always been a dream of mine, but I gave up on that dream early in life after being told that becoming a writer was an unrealistic career aspiration. However, with the encouragement of several good friends in recent years, I decided to finally transfer one of my stories from its abstract place in my imagination, to tangible words on paper.
I started with an outline. This proved extremely helpful, especially in the early stages of writing, because it helped me visualize how I wanted the story to progress and where I wanted it to ultimately end up, all while working out the details in-between.
The most difficult part of writing The Bonds Between Us actually came after the novel was finished, and I had to begin sending the manuscript out to agents and publishers. As a writer, your stories are more than simply words on a page—they are a part of who you are. On the one hand, they are a culmination of hours upon hours of work, dedication, care, and love. Beyond that, though, stories are also a reflection, to varying extents, of your personality, your thoughts and feelings, your hopes and dreams, your fears, your insecurities. Putting a book out for publication therefore means that you are, in essence, putting a part of yourself out into the world for people to analyze. Your story—and you by extension—could be accepted and loved just as easily as you could be rejected and hated. It is a terrifying thought. For me, that was the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the writing process. It took me quite a while to find the courage to make The Bonds Between Us public. Even after a year of writing the story, followed by several months of editing it to be the best that it could possibly be, it still took me a few months more to finally send it out to publishers. It remains, even now, the single part of this entire process that is the most intimidating to me.
FQ: Along those same lines, if there was one piece of advice that you would give to a brand-new start-up writer, what would you most want them to know?
RUHL: My biggest piece of advice to a new writer, as cliché as it may sound, would be to not give up on the literary work that you are writing. For me, writing a novel was quite daunting, especially since I knew absolutely nothing about the publishing process. It was also a massive time commitment, which was difficult on top of holding down a full-time job and being enrolled part-time as a graduate student. There were times when it felt like I would never finish writing the novel—or if I did, that it would never be published. Receiving countless rejection letters from agents prior to my decision to self-publish was additionally demoralizing. Yet through the support and encouragement of friends and family, as well as the tremendous support I received from the Atmosphere Press team, The Bonds Between Us is now a reality. So, if you have a story that you want to tell, a story that you think is worth telling... then tell it. Don’t be overwhelmed by the size of your project, intimidated by the publishing process, or discouraged by rejection. Believe in your work, your writing, and yourself.
FQ: If you could sit down with one author for dinner, who would that be and what is one question you would love to ask them?
RUHL: This is a difficult question! There are so many different authors with whom I would love to sit down for dinner...and all for different reasons! Michael Shaara, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Pope Osborne, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all come to mind. However, if I had to choose a single author with whom to have dinner, I think it would have to be Agatha Christie. I first got hooked on Christie’s mystery novels after reading The A.B.C. Murders for a summer assignment during middle school. I absolutely loved it. I didn’t think mystery novels could get any better. But then I read Murder on the Orient Express, and I knew from that moment forward that I would be an Agatha Christie fan for life. I was completely shocked by the ending, and even more in awe with the sheer genius of Christie’s writing. Never before had I read a book in which the author has such total control over their reader, subtly manipulating their perspective of events before ripping the rug out from beneath them at the very end—yet doing so in a way that leaves the reader reflecting upon the events of the book and thinking, “How did I not see that coming? It’s so obvious now!” That is the magic of every Agatha Christie novel that I have ever read. It is also something that has inspired me greatly as a writer. As such, if I could ask Dame Christie one question, I would love to ask her how she developed the idea—and the masterful skill—to so subtly blend the obscure and the obvious together to create what was, at her time, a “new” form of mystery novels. Was she, herself, inspired by other writers? Or was her style of writing—which revolutionized the mystery genre—purely her own creation?
FQ: Since this is going to be a trilogy, can you give readers a “sneak peek” at what Book 2 has in store for them?
RUHL: In Book 2, Katya, Matteo, Nina, and Leo will find themselves dealing with the repercussions of their confrontation with Hela and the Devil while in France. Specifically, Katya finds herself suffering from mysterious ailments that started shortly after the final battle on Torcello. Then, she receives an anonymous note with a clear message: Do everything I ask, and I’ll give you the cure.
Desperate for a solution to her troubles, Katya follows the instructions from the note to Paris, where she must locate a series of rare items behind the backs of her soulmate, her best friends, and the law. She doesn’t know what the items are for, who is asking for them, or why this person wants them. All she knows is that these obscure objects are all that stand between her and a fate worse than death.
It’s a race against time for Katya, who risks losing both her mind and soul to the forces of the Underworld. But will she be able to accomplish all that is being asked of her by this mysterious correspondent who promises salvation? Will the latter follow through with their end of the bargain even if she does? And will Matteo figure out the truth in time to find and save the woman he loves before she is lost to the darkness forever?
FQ: Because you have truly excelled in this genre, may I ask if there is one genre you have a secret hope to write in one day? Are you, perhaps, a romance, murder mystery, or history fan who would like to introduce a cast of characters to the world one day?
RUHL: As a history nerd, I have always had a dream of writing historical fiction. I would love to create future novels within that genre, about a variety of historical topics. It would be fantastic to be able to share my love of history in that way, and to bring the past to life through my characters. A note from the interviewer: Thank you so much. Good luck with the trilogy; this one was utterly fantastic!
A note from the author: Thank you so much for these wonderful questions, your well wishes, and your kind words!